There will not be a minor-league season in 2020, yet there will be Prospect Watch — albeit in an altered format. Rather than surveying the land for every team, we’ll be highlighting one youngster playing in big-league games. This week, that player is Toronto Blue Jays righty Nate Pearson, who will make his third career start on Wednesday against the Marlins. So far, he’s tallied 10 strikeouts in 10 innings and has allowed three runs on four hits and five walks.

If there’s one thing the average fan knows about Pearson, it’s that he throws the ball hard. He’s been clocked up to 104 mph during a game, and even higher in side sessions. That’s the kind of velocity-based accomplishment that tends to stick with people. Pearson isn’t throwing quite that hard this season; he’s averaged 96 mph over his first two starts, which means he’s only — only! — among the, oh, dozen or so hardest-throwing right-handed starters in the game. Bummer.

Pearson’s velocity doesn’t tell the whole story so far as his heater is concerned. He’s a big lad, listed at 6-foot-6, and his deep release point means the fastball plays a little quicker. His fastball also features above-average spin, resulting in above-average vertical movement. Pearson’s fastball doesn’t have the same kind of life horizontally, and is instead a fairly straight offering.

When Pearson wants to miss bats, he’s likely to turn away from the heat in favor of his slider. It’s been his best swinging-strike generator to date thanks to its depth and two-plane movement. He’s shown feel for manipulating its break and for throwing it in the zone as well. 

Pearson hasn’t used the rest of his arsenal nearly as much. He has a high-80s changeup that has flashed above-average potential, and a mid-70s curveball that keeps hitters honest. The changeup is the more important of these two pitches for his long-term development, since it would give him another look versus left-handed batters. Here’s a good one:

And a not-so-good one:

In addition to the consistency of the changeup, Pearson has to continue to work on his command. He hasn’t been burned yet, but more of his pitches have found the middle of the plate than he should feel comfortable with.

None of this should be surprising to anyone, including the Blue Jays themselves. Pearson will turn 24 years old in a week and has thrown 133 professional innings — and that’s when his big-league total is included. Prior to that, he was pitching at the College of Central Florida. Relative to most of his peers, Pearson has far less experience against top-flight competition. As such, some additional assembly was always going to be required. 

The Blue Jays can only hope the suboptimal circumstances thrown at Pearson this season — the pandemic pause; being forced to play home games in Buffalo; and so on — won’t impede upon his development too much. If they’re going to make a serious run at the postseason this year, they’re going to need him to look the part of an above-average starter.


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